FROM THE EDITOR — What’s Your Favorite Olympic Men’s 1500?

TIME OR TACTICS? Based on recent conversation on our Message Board, there are still those who think that Matthew Centrowitz’s Rio 1500 win was a rather feeble performance, based on how slow it was. I, on the other hand, rate it as the second-best Olympic men’s 1500 I’ve seen in my 50-plus years at T&FN.

What a masterful display of tactical running it was! One of those races where — for me at least — the clock was completely irrelevant as Centro outthought a high-powered field in the beginning and outraced them at the end. The fact that his winning time was the slowest since 1932 is irrelevant; it was racing entertainment at its finest.

So which of the 12 Games 1500s I’ve seen since starting at the magazine was more entertaining than Centro’s? That would have to be Hicham El Guerrouj vs. Bernard Lagat, Athens ’04. I wasn’t in the announcing booth at that point, and was standing about 20 rows from the track about 50m from the finish. The perfect vantage point as the two superstars went at it, hammer & tongs, up the final straight. One of the great finishing duels of all time, in any event at any meet.

But the bottom line is that there are no bad Olympic 1500s; some are just greater than others. To illustrate what I mean, what follows, chronologically, are the opening sentences of each of the dozen men’s 1500s during my magazine career, with the author’s name, as they appeared in our Olympic Editions:

1972 — Pekka Vasala 3:36.33
Bearded, golden-haired Pekka Vasala, one of the new breed of fast-finishing Finns, overpowered defending champion Kip Keino to win the Olympic 1500. The 24-year-old Vasala, far from a favorite last spring and not at all confident of his ability to run well on the third day of 1500s, thus ran his way to instant greatness with the speediest last 800 ever… /Cordner Nelson/

1976 — John Walker 3:39.17
Muscular John Walker of New Zealand, fastest miler of all time, won the slowest Olympic 1500 in 20 years. His 3:39.2, probably the most disappointing mark in the beautiful Stade Olympique, was the result of three factors… /Cordner Nelson/

1980 — Seb Coe 3:38.40
This was to be a classic duel, the greatest 1500 ever run, between the two fastest runners of all time. But Sebastian Coe, not quite 24 years old, had proved himself to be, at best, an inept tactician in the 800 and, quite possibly, not in the condition he was when he set his 4 World Records… /Cordner Nelson/

1984 — Seb Coe 3:32.53 OR
Recipe for a great champion: 1. Into a large bowl filled with 92,000 howling spectators and spiced with all the importance of the Olympics and the attention of the most TV viewers in history, place the fastest batch of milers ever assembled; 2. Filter out any obviously defunct ingredients… /Cordner Nelson/

1988 — Peter Rono 3:35.96
Riddle: For Pete’s sake, how could attrition mean three medals? Attrition destroyed what should have been the greatest 1500 field in history: world champion Abdi Bile broke his leg; WR holder Saïd Aouita aggravated a hamstring in a foolhardy attempt to win the 800; WR miler Steve Cram suffered from a leg injury which saw him helplessly eliminated in a weak 800 performance; The Brits shot themselves in the foot by not selecting Seb Coe… /Cordner Nelson/

1992 — Fermín Cacho 3:40.12
The victory of wildly popular Fermín Cacho was not really a generous gift for his own achievement and the glory of Spain. It only looked that way. To begin with, the field was so decimated by injuries and accidents as to become the weakest of the men’s events, with a crop of young runners taking over… /Cordner Nelson/

1996 — Noureddine Morceli 3:35.78
Even slow pacing and a late-race melee couldn’t obscure a magnificent performance. Noureddine Morceli, so sorely disappointed in Barcelona, romped the final 800 in 1:48.8 to emphatically nail down the only missing link in his legacy as the world’s greatest miler. “It was a very special moment in my life,” he said… /Sean Hartnett/

2000 — Noah Ngeny 3:32.07 OR
The 1500 echoed of Noureddine Morceli in ’92, prematurely annointed by virtue of his undefeated world champion season in ’91. There were also echoes of Jim Ryun in ’68, also undefeated in the pre-Olympic year and holder of the 1500 and mile World Records. Hicham El Guerrouj, the consensus favorite, lost in Sydney… /Sieg Lindstrom/

2004 — Hicham El Guerrouj 3:34.18
Prevailing in an epic homestretch footrace with his prime rival, Hicham El Guerrouj won his first Olympic title, erasing what had been the one nagging reservation about his claim to being the greatest miler of all time. The 29-year-old Moroccan controlled the race from 600m on and held off Sydney bronze medalist Bernard Lagat… /Sieg Lindstrom/

2008 — *Rashid Ramzi 3:32.94
Viewed as an Olympiad-long plotline, the men’s 1500 was a proper drama even though the final act, the Beijing competition lost much of its tension in the semis. In the end Rashid Ramzi, the Moroccan-turned-Bahraini overcame aggressive Kenyan pacing in the last 200 of an Olympic final faster than any other save those in Los Angeles (Seb Coe) and Sydney (Noah Ngeny). Ramzi, 28, kicked to gold in 3:32.94 ahead of Kenyan Asbel Kiprop — at 19 years and 50 days the youngest 1500 medalist ever… /Sieg Lindstrom/
(* The next year, retesting of Beijing samples found Ramzi guilty of doping and he was stripped of the gold, which went to Kiprop. Ironically, Kiprop is now serving a doping ban of his own.)

2012 — Taoufik Makhloufi 3:34.08
The Kenyans may have lined up as the three fastest, favored for an almost unprecedented sweep by Asbel Kiprop, Silas Kiplagat and Nixon Chepseba, but in his semifinal, Taoufik Makhloufi stamped himself as the man to beat… /Jeff Hollobaugh/

2016 — Matthew Centrowitz 3:50.00
We will be talking about Matthew Centrowitz’s Olympic masterpiece for years to come. The 26-year-old American delivered one of the most impressive tactical performances in the history of the event… /Jeff Hollobaugh/

Forget binge-watching: now if I can only find the time to reread each of those stories in its entirety as a prelude to the next awesome chapter, to be written in Tokyo. Can’t wait. ◻︎